MORRIS -- The largest Red River Valley community between Winnipeg and the U.S. border is preparing to partly sever itself from the rest of Manitoba for the third time in six years.
Some time over the next week, Highway 75 will be closed just north of Morris as the province begins to seal the ring dike around the town of 1,673 people at the confluence of the Red and Morris rivers.
After the northbound exit to the town is sealed off, Highway 23 on the west side of Morris and Highway 75 at the south end will also be closed.
Sections of railroad running through Morris will be removed and replaced with impermeable mounds of clay, as floodwaters are capable of seeping through the gravel bedding below the tracks.
As the flood of 2011 proceeds, the only land link between Morris and the outside world will be Highway 23 at the east edge of town. And even that will be sealed off if this year's floodwaters exceed 2009 levels by a matter of centimetres.
"The good news and the bad news is we've had a lot practise doing this," said Morris Mayor Gavin van der Linde, a church pastor who's also a former city councillor and emergency-management officer.
During the 1997 Red River flood, Morris's ring dike closed for 45 days, including a period when the town was a temporary island. There was another 18-day partial closure in 2006, followed by a 37-day partial closure in 2009, when the east exit remained open because St. Mary's Road remained navigable.
Another partial closure is all but certain this spring, when the Red is expected to match or slightly surpass its 2009 level.
"If we don't have to evacuate, everything is peachy," van der Linde said, referring to a voluntary emptying of a town that has not been swamped in decades. "The closures have a big psychological impact and a big effect on business."
When Morris is cut off, so is Winnipeg's main land link with the United States. The trucking and shipping industries share the town's desire to see Highway 75 raised to the point where it could remain open through almost any flood, especially now that major deluges appear commonplace.
"It's getting to be almost every other year," said life-long Morris resident Charles Covernton, who's about to endure his seventh flood since 1950. "It doesn't even affect me anymore, but new people get a lot more nervous."
Morris is one of 19 Manitoba communities that employ ring dikes as flood defences. All are located in the Red River Valley except for Ste. Lazare, which sits at the confluence of the Qu'Appelle and Assiniboine rivers in western Manitoba.
On Wednesday, Manitoba Water Stewardship began preparing to close ring dikes at Ste. Agathe and Ste. Adolphe.
Individual homes and other private properties also employ ring dikes. One of the largest private ring dikes in Canada surrounds part of a Howden-area acreage owned by retirees John Corp and Mary Elizabeth McKenzie, only a few kilometres south of Winnipeg.
Corp and McKenzie, who have lived along the Red River since 1992, spent approximately $50,000 this year building up their 2.5-kilometre ring dike, which now forms a muddy wall across what used to be their driveway.
They were forced to turn their home into a fortress because they could not fill the 20,000 sandbags that would have been required to boost the height of their existing ring dike.
"People like to throw sandbags. They don't like to fill them," said Corp, who's irked the province wouldn't provide him with sandbags unless floodwaters approached 1997 levels -- at which point, there would be no means of trucking in the bags. "They have stockpiles and stockpiles of sandbags. Why wouldn't they let us use them?"
In what's become a common refrain across flood-affected areas in Manitoba, Corp and McKenzie say moving is not an option because their property is unsellable -- and they don't have the means to purchase a Winnipeg home.
"We love it here, but getting flooded out every other year is not fun," he said.
Recent Morris ring-dike closures
1997: 45 days
2006: 18 days
2009: 37 days
A river runs around it
Manitoba communities with ring dikes. All are in the Red River Valley, except where noted.
Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation
St. Jean Baptiste
St- Lazare (Assiniboine River) -- St-Pierre-Jolys